today i interviewed 9 of the most amazing woman i have ever had the pleasure of meeting. five from zimbabwe & four from malawi. it struck me then that i had actually never really met anyone from malawi in fact if you asked me to point it out on a map i’m not sure i’d be able to and other than my mother-in-laws kitchen & garden staff (who incidently have both been with her over 20 years) i haven’t met many zimbabwean’s either. my loss because they are very special people. out of the nine ladies i met i wanted to hire 5 of them right there and then on the spot. anyhow i am jumping the gun here. back to the interviews.

i had a list of questions prepared that i had made up from speaking to other friends and two nanny agencies. i was taking no chances this time. i wanted all angles covered. this time i was going to deal with this professionally so as to set the tone for our future ‘relationship’ i.e. not the ‘buddy buddy’ system i had been employing in the past which was clearly not working! i wanted them to know that i was taking this very seriously and that i wanted someone with a similar attitude.

the first thing i noticed about these woman was just how very black they were. much darker than our local south africans. i noticed this especially as i had already had serious issues at first when my son met our previous nanny – a local south african with a much paler skin tone than others and yet he completely freaked out every time he saw her and we are not speaking a mild crying thing here – she would walk in and he would take one look at her & pretty much go hysterical. so much so i was completely flummoxed and not sure what to make of it as she seemed really sweet until she said to me the one day ‘i think it’s because i’m black’. and so all the pieces fell into place. i realised then that in his short little life he had actually never been in contact with a black person. and being at that age where the grips of imagination were just beginning to take hold this could very well be the case. i called my mom, a child psychologist, and she suggested i buy him a black doll so that i could use it in role play and get him used to different skin colour etc… it worked & before long they were getting on like best friends (aaarrrrgghhh i could kill her!!!!). anyhow i now sat wondering if the fact that their teeth shone like luminous pebbles when they smiled would now cause another round of hystericalness…….

if i had the time i could write and tell you about each one of those interviews. each one of those ladies was THAT special. instead i will try and give you an overview of certain aspects that appeared in each one of them. i had set aside a 45 minute time-frame for each interview with a 15-30 minute gap in-between. each interview overran it’s allotted time. after each woman left i felt totally inspired & totally heartbroken at the same time. the one lady in particular had such a sense of elegance about here, not a term i would easily come to when thinking of africa, but i felt like she was off the set of ‘out of africa’. she had such a humble ‘regalness’ about her i almost felt like she should be interviewing me!

each one arrived extremely well presented. many in very old sometimes even threadbare clothes but that had been ironed to within an inch of their lives. they all stood tall & gracious but with an inner strength that completely transfixed me. i couldn’t help but sit there & feel a lesser person than these women if for nothing else than the trials they have had to overcome in their short lives – many only 26 -28 years of age.

the interviews all started lightly and everyone smiled politely and answered the questions quite easily. not one of them brought up their own personal situation until i began questioning about it. i had been told by the nanny agency to always enquire about their family situation as i needed to be aware of how often they go home etc… it was only at this stage that i saw their demeanour’s falter & the tragedy of their lives became clear. it was more what they didn’t say that gave me a greater understanding of just what these ladies had been through – especially the zimbabwean ones. they spoke of their children being left behind in villages where there was no work and no food. they spoke of having to leave their country to search for work because their children were starving and death from starvation was a real threat. they spoke about having to leave south africa suddenly when the recent bouts of xenophobia was at it’s worse and their lives were under serious threat. and then having to take the chance to come back here as there was just no other option for them. and yet they spoke all these words with an amazing strength & a complete graciousness. they were not looking for my pity. they were just telling me how it is. as each one left i felt my entire being shrinking in the shadow of the strength of these woman. by the end of it i found myself alone on my couch feeling as if i’d just chopped 10 onions! would i ever have been able to endure what they have had to? just leaving my son at his nursery school for 3 hours sends me into a flood of tears. how embarrassing!!!!! and here these woman were leaving their entire families with some having children as young as 1 years old who they would be lucky to see once a year. being the ‘florence nightingale inc’ that i am i had this overwhelming sense that it was my duty to if not employ them all then find other employers for them. the thought that i was to ‘choose’ just one became such an overbearing weight i just couldn’t take it.

it reminded me of this series a friend gave us a while back called ‘a long way down’ with ewan mcgregor & charlie boorman (if you haven’t seen it you must – it’s brilliant!) anyhow in one of the scenes they start describing a village they had visited somewhere in central africa – for the life of me i can’t remember where it was – but in anycase they had got into trouble with their bikes and needed to stay over somewhere and these ‘strangers’ with absolutely ‘nothing’ took them in and housed them in their sparse straw huts and offered them the little food they had etc…. the group were so completely overwhelmed by these people’s generosity it all but brought them to tears…. but it was the ‘soul’ of the african that really got to them. these men had traveled all over the world quite literally and they all agreed that nowhere in the world had they experience a ‘soul’ quite like the people of africa. and that’s what i felt i had experienced in my living room. a ‘soul’ that was so gracious, so positive, so strong and yet so very, very humble.

sadly we can’t afford to employ the five i would love to employ. we can only employ one. so now i sit with the arduous task of having to ‘choose’ one. how simply awful. but like my girlfriend who came over to console me said…. just remember these are the ‘lucky’ ones…. they have come here to make money so that they can try and give their children back home a better life. there are many out there that can’t do this. i know she meant well and is probably right….. but personally it just made me feel even sadder.

one thing is for sure though. i am now so grateful that my last nanny left. i realised now that i had settled for tenth best. all nine of these woman put her to shame if for no other reason than i could just tell from their eyes how EXTREMELY grateful they would be for the job. how hard they would work because their lives mattered to them & the lives of their families mattered even more.

i for one am so grateful to have met them.